Regardless of what I watched in 2021, the new year promises us upcoming projects which make us excited along the way. But with COVID-19 playing the spoilsport as always, last year in the movies is a slight improvement over the previous year 2020, which was basically a wasteland of nothing. There are a lot of great ones though and I'm here to talk about the ones that are the best in order of release date.
Before mentioning the best movies of 2021, here are some honorable mentions:
- Chathur Mukham
- Nenjam Marapathillai
- Geeli Pucchi from the anthology Ajeeb Dastaans (if it were a whole full-length movie, it could be considered in the best list but the rest of the shorts are kinda underwhelming)
- Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi
- Bheemanthe Vazhi
- Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings
- In The Heights
- The Matrix Resurrections
- Free Guy
- Pushpa: The Rise
A new year with a new beginning...
- The Great Indian Kitchen
With the OTT platforms dominating the conversation and theatres making a comeback, The Great Indian Kitchen had the former locked in with quite possibly one of the most bitter takedowns of social patriarchy, and Master being the savior of theatres with a record-breaking opening. While Master has its flaws, (the ensemble not fully utilized, and the lengthy runtime) the clash of two Vijay's (Thalapathy and Sethupathi) were good enough to deliver expectations as it's the biggest strength of the movie. Maara, on the other hand, has the expectations of being a remake of the beloved original Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Charlie, it still had a unique spin which still makes this story a lot more fresh.
Where Malayalam cinema had some feel-good moments...
- Operation Java
- Drishyam 2
Malayalam cinema had a solid month in February with the OTT boom for Neestream in the form of The Great Indian Kitchen and Thirike, the latter which tells the story about two brothers trying to reconnect when one of them who has down-syndrome has been adopted leaving his older brother all alone. Drishyam 2 on Amazon Prime, saw the arrival of Mohanlal into the OTT platform and returns as the conniving yet empathetic Georgekutty, which had one of the best twist endings no one ever saw it coming (even the characters themselves are aghast when the "twist" happens). While the big superstar movie was launched on an OTT platform, Operation Java happened to be the first Malayalam movie to release in theatres post lockdown and had a long run despite its lukewarm reception at the box office. Which is a shame considering that it's a great investigative thriller functioning as a bittersweet tale of two underdogs who despite working hard, never get the recognition nor the rewards they deserve.
And for this month, it featured some of the year's feel-bad movies... until a director's cut which dominated the social media discourse arrives...
- Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar
- Zack Snyder's Justice League
Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar might seem a bit odd in this list of feel-bad movies released (it does have a somewhat hopeful ending) but its bleak premise about two unlikely fugitives who witnessed an ambush (which were meant for them as the movie goes along) provides unrelenting tension, and its pitch-black humor only Dibakar Banerjee could conjure up with. Kala saw how Tovino Thomas as a performer could instantly flip from likable to unlikable within no time, and of all the movies which disturbed me the most, it's Biriyani. Kani Kusruthi gives this year's boldest performance, it's unbelievable what her character is subjected to and in turn, her actions are even more shocking. This movie easily has one of the most shocking prologues and epilogues in Malayalam cinema. But for me, the only movie which made me feel better was the much-talked-about "Snyder Cut" of the Justice League. Yes, it's not a masterpiece but it doesn't need to be. All it does is that it remains a testament of a singular vision created by Zack Snyder despite the naysayers saying it's near impossible a finished cut exists, and with an intimidating 4-hour runtime, it nonetheless fleshes out all the characters really well with some incredible action sequences.
Some masterpieces along the way...
- Mitchells VS The Machines
This month saw a flurry of great movies releasing weeks within each other (some even on the same day), but Hollywood had very few great movies coming out until the spectacularly hilarious Mitchells VS The Machines came out on Netflix. This month also going to watch my first theatrical release, Karnan, while not as potent as Mari Selvaraj's debut, Pariyerum Perumal, still delivered on its gargantuan expectations and its grand cinematic scope with an equally outstanding turn from its star Dhanush. Sure, there were more that were released in theatres (Nayattu, Aarkkariyam, Mandela) but they got a second life on OTT platforms. Joji, however, being released on Amazon Prime took the risk of adapting the infamous Shakespeare play Macbeth, and instead opted for a COVID pandemic era setting for its story to give it a loose yet unique spin on the Bard. Fahadh Faasil as usual kills it as the titular character although it might be great if he moves away from playing psychotic characters.
Bo Burnham's special personifies everyone's mental health thanks to a second wave of the pandemic...
- Bo Burnham's Inside
- A Quiet Place Part 2
Well, this is a downer of a month. Another lockdown, another wave hit across the world. So, it was Bo Burnham's Inside that handled the lockdown blues all too well by his sharp wit, brutally honest viewpoint, laugh-out-loud humor, and the cherry on top, a catchy musical. Sure, I saw A Quiet Place Part 2 a little late thanks to all theatres shut down at our place but when it got available on OTT platforms, it still remains a solid sequel even if the original set a ridiculously high bar to reach. I got nothing else to say though, let's move on to the next month...
Nothing special here... except for a friendship between two sea creatures posing as humans to drive a Vespa
Yup, only one great movie came from this month (sorry Fast 9 fans but I just didn't watch it yet), and that is Pixar's Luca. A delightful tale about two young sea monsters who pose as young boys to explore the Italian culture, and their shared dream of driving a Vespa. What makes this one so feel-good is that it has the vibe of Miyazaki's greatest hits where it's colorful, vibrant, and often at times humorous. With some solid voice acting from Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer, they elevate an otherwise cute movie from Pixar into a great one.
Some normalcy is here... with Amazon Prime delivering two humongous hits in Tamil and Malayalam cinema. Oh, and we also get to witness a resurgence from Nicolas Cage
- Sarpatta Parambarai
- Haseen Dilruba
Haseen Dilruba which was released on Netflix is quite possibly the most audacious Bollywood movie ever to come out last year. It's as if the actors (and even the filmmaker Vinil Matthew) surrendered to Kanika Dhillon's script which encapsulated the madness within. It's not surprising it ended up being one of the most polarising films of the year, and just for that reason, I love it even more. As for Amazon Prime, it had two big South Indian hits: Tamil cinema had Sarpatta Parambarai (a better version of Toofaan which was released on the same platform but a week before it), and Malayalam cinema had Malik. Both were masterpieces in their own right, technically well made, brilliantly performed by the ensemble, and both capture the intimacy of an epic sorely missing in current period pieces. Speaking of intimacy, we have one of the most affecting performances from Nicolas Cage in Pig, in which on paper it sounds like a revenge thriller and with a star like him, you're expecting something on the likes of a John Wick. But to everyone's surprise, this is a beautiful if not thought-provoking tale of grief, loneliness, and remembrance where Nic Cage's performance does not resort to his usual heightened histrionics but instead opts for a quietly moving demeanor.
Some risks were taken... both in the content and the way in which it was released
- The Suicide Squad
Shershaah which was released on Amazon Prime had the usual checkboxes needed for the current state of patriotic Indian movies, but thanks to Siddharth Malhotra's supremely likable performance as the late Param Vir Chakra awardee Vikram Batra, this movie also focuses on the famous love story which makes this movie all the more poignant. This was considered to be Siddharth Malhotra's do-or-die movie and it clearly paid off big time. Annette saw the return of Leos Carax after 8 years since his magnum opus Holy Motors was released. This absurd musical rock opera (aptly the soundtrack and the screenplay is by The Sparks Brothers) is strangely accessible to follow and with superb performances from Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, and newcomer Devyn McDowell, this movie tells a strange haunting revenge drama with surprising dramatic heft. And, last but not least we got The Suicide Squad which could have been the one we wanted in 2016. It's ironic that this one bombed while 2016 was a huge hit but as far as reception is considered, the former is miles better than the Frankenstein's monster of the 2016 theatrical cut. But still, James Gunn seems to get the source material right as his zany, mean-spirited, and wacky humor compliments the hyper gory violence and the crazy rogues' gallery.
A drama based on guilt and forgiveness and a horror movie that redeems itself in the third act...
Kaanekaane is the follow-up to Manu Ashokan's Uyire, which has their protagonists face predicament and how they deal with it. While the former tells the story about the struggles and endurance faced by an acid attack survivor whose face has been disfigured, the latter is more contemplative in terms of the themes it handles: guilt and forgiveness. It's a great follow-up from his debut along with a spectacular lead performance from Suraj Venjaramoodu. On the other hand, we have Malignant, which was very close to ending up on the honorable mentions list because two-thirds of the film wasn't particularly intriguing nor scary. But when a "twist" arrives on the third act, all hell breaks loose and the movie becomes a campy fun ride with lots of gore, intensity is at an all-time high, and even the action sequences are superbly choreographed. In fact, all the fallacies of the previous act preceding the third act now make sense and in a way redeems the whole movie.
Back to the theatres once again... with a movie worth the experience...
- The Last Duel
- Last Night in Soho
- Ron's Gone Wrong
- Sardar Udham
Yes, these movies have been released later in my place but only one of them warranted the big-screen experience like Dune: Part One did. A visual extravaganza with sophisticated VFX, a great ensemble led by Timothee Chalamet, brilliant world-building which is easily accessible to the casual viewers, the abrupt ending can be forgiven now as the sequel is coming out. The Last Duel, Last Night In Soho, and Ron's Gone Wrong might have been colossal box office disappointments but they deserve as much love from the streaming platforms as much as the reception they've got. Plus, Sivakarthikeyan's Doctor saw a jolt in the cinemas as it saw the return from audiences and it ensured us the theatres aren't going anywhere. On the flip side, Sardar Udham released on Amazon Prime, hands down takes the cake of being one of the best Bollywood movies of the year by a huge margin. With Vicky Kaushal's haunting portrayal as the titular character, his actions and decisions not only make you care for him but also makes us appreciate the real-life hero behind this as it gives an empathetic view of his struggle which many Bollywood's hyper-jingoistic movies miss these days. It's easily the most humane Bollywood movie this year.
Some star-studded turns, a variety of genres, and several great releases...
- Kadaseela Biriyani
- Jai Bhim
November was a fully loaded month in terms of releases. With theatres seeing audiences return, that doesn't discount OTT platforms out of the picture. With the Suriya starrer Jai Bhim releasing on Amazon Prime, (one year after his first OTT hit Soorarai Pottru) it generated not only acclaim in handling sensitive issues about caste discrimination, and the real-life events that occurred shown in the film, but it also was a source of controversy regarding the same. It did however reach a global audience within no time showing us that OTT platforms could help generate word-of-mouth quicker than any movie releasing in theatres. Churuli which was released on Sony LIV, also benefitted from that move as well, as it is now considered to be the new cult hit from Malayalam cinema, and from the acclaimed director like Lijo Jose Pellissery, we're more than excited with what he does next. (His next is with Mammootty so that's easily up in my most anticipated list). While Encanto wasn't a huge success at the box office, it does have life in Disney+ and the soundtrack itself is helping it get the audience it deserves if the YouTube views are of any indicators. In Tamil cinema, however, we saw an experimental turn from the indie and mainstream market with Kadaseela Biriyani, which has the template of a masala film made with avant-garde filmmaking, and Maanaadu which borrows the time-loop concept from Hollywood movies and gives it a masala style political thriller. To audiences' delight, they've been well received and might be the stepping stones for the industry.
Closing 2021, superheroes dominated the conversation... both globally and locally
- Minnal Murali
- Spider-Man: No Way Home
Spider-Man: No Way Home dominated the box-office (and still is) by becoming the first movie since 2019 to hit a billion dollars and it seems worthy considering how it delivered on its garguantan expectations. It also helped that what the fans have been yearning for for decades has finally been delivered on the big screen. On the local side of things we have Minnal Murali which came out on Netflix, and this also had a lot of expectations to meet. Not only that too delivered as well, but it might just be one of the best Indian superhero movies of all time (It's admittedly a low bar but thankfully this is by a huge margin). There were lots more which have been released and yet these two movies provided hope towards the new year to come.